Stranger Things 4 Very Long Episodes: Why the Duffer Bros. Lucky

Oversized episodes complicate standard talent contracts, but they get really tricky in an ad-supported Netflix.

The first part of “Stranger Things 4” is out today and with it comes a mega-big mid-season finale: Episode 7 is 1 hour and 38 minutes long. But wait, there’s more – a lot more. The second part of the two-episode season kicks off on July 1st with a penultimate episode lasting an additional 1 hour and 38 minutes and a finale lasting nearly two and a half hours.

The S4 finale of “Stranger Things” will likely be the longest episode of American television in history. In jargon, these “supersized” episodes have become commonplace, but they date back to the 1983 series finale of “M*A*S*H.” It was 2 1/2 hours long, even though that was considered a made-for-TV movie – and one that contained a bunch of very expensive commercials. Game of Thrones Season 8 episode The Long Night ran 82 minutes and the 2016 Gilmore Girls revival featured four episodes of 90 minutes each.

A traditional comedy occupies 30 minutes of total television time; a drama gets 60. Excluding commercials, that means a sitcom is 22 minutes of the actual episode; similarly hour-long shows have around 44-46 minutes of story. Detached from the native format of broadcast and ad-supported cable, streaming creators have a freedom and flexibility that even films cannot always offer.

The longest episode of Stranger Things to date was 76 minutes. Sources tell IndieWire that after Matt and Ross Duffer delivered three consecutive hit seasons of “Stranger Things” for Netflix, Season 3 is the streamer’s third most-watched season and Season 4 should even eclipse “Bridgerton”‘s top two Slots in as many seasons – those in power were more than happy to give in to the showrunners’ creative vision for season four’s mega-episodes.

“It was always the core creative vision of the season to have these episodes as they are,” Matt Thunell, Netflix executive and executive producer of Stranger Things, told Variety. “Part of the reason the episodes are a bit longer is because we have a huge cast of characters. And by the way, the fans love every single one of them. To give them episode over episode due, it just means the episodes need to be expanded to suit them. That was really the main reason for the length of this season, the fact that we have an amazing cast that everyone cares about and we want to make sure we deliver every single one of those stories.”

Duffer Brothers officials declined a request for an interview with IndieWire. When achieved, Netflix did not comment on this story.

"stranger things 4"

“Stranger Things 4”


While the episodes may have been designed to fit the “Stranger Things” ensemble, the Duffers will now be known as the creators whose show in television history has longest deserved to be episodes, not movies. (With a reported per-episode budget of up to $30 million, they might well be.) While it remains to be seen how the marathon episodes will perform in a culture that’s becoming less observant by the day, the brothers have Duffer done it opened a Pandora’s box. (Kind of fitting for the Smash’s sci-fi themes.)

Your timing for this experiment is ideal; until next year it may be impossible. Stranger Things 5, the show’s final season, doesn’t yet have a production schedule or premiere date, but it will exist in a very different Netflix landscape.

After a disastrous first quarter of 2022, the formerly advertising-shy streaming service wants to offer a (cheaper) subscription level with advertising later this year. The move to increase subscriber numbers and add a new revenue stream comes as Netflix stock languishes below $200 a share; last fall it was up to $700 a share. Finances shape creativity: Factor Ad breaks into the equation and a two-hour episode becomes much more complicated. The finale of Stranger Things 4 would feel less cinematic if it was punctuated with allergy drug ads every 15 minutes or so. Might as well control the pauses in post-production – and at that point just as easily do a 13-episode season at one-hour installments, rather than a reloaded 13-hour season with nine episodes of varying lengths.

With little known about Netflix’s AVOD plans, it’s unclear if all series would have commercials, how many commercial minutes per hour, and where the commercials would fall. HBO Max, for example, has stated that not all of its shows will feature advertising, although it’s unclear how they’ll make that distinction. (Those who do will have no more than four minutes of advertising per hour, the company said; Disney+ recently made the same promise for its own upcoming AVOD tier.) HBO Max is currently limiting its movie advertising product to 90-second blocks before the presentation of the film, without advertising during the actual presentation.

Ad-supported streaming on premium platforms is nascent and complicated — but that’s what’s happening when the replacement for traditional TV becomes traditional TV. A traditional element that no longer works, however, is the flat fee model per episode for series regulars. Predictable episode lengths meant talent reps could negotiate actors’ pay based on the number of episodes in a season. In a landscape of oversized episodes, more math needs to go into ensuring proper payment for time spent.

Sources working on talent negotiations tell IndieWire that lawyers and agents in the know build a prorated fee into personal service contracts that determines how much more money an actor makes for episodes that extend beyond a typical runtime. SAG-AFTRA also has a side letter in its AMPTP agreement that addresses oversized episodes.

If this does not happen, correction is sometimes required in the form of additional compensation for the next season. Call it a “make it up” — the advertising community, which will soon be in talks with Netflix, certainly knows what that means.

Yes, there is always the next season. And with Stranger Things 5 ​​converging with Netflix AVOD, the next season will definitely be one to watch.

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Lindsay Lowe

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